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Ames Laboratory Designs Nano-catalysts to Upcycle Polyolefin Plastics

Contact Author Michele Behrens
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Ames Laboratory scientists have nanoengineered catalysts that can upcycle polyethylene. This can lead to the production of solvents, lubricating oils and more, replacing single-use plastic.


Scientists at Ames Laboratory have developed a reportedly first-of-its-kind catalyst that is able to process polyolefin plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene.

Related: Carbios Enzyme Furthers Recycling, Draws Industry Giant Interest

According to a report by Ames Laboratory, these types of polymers are widely used in containers such as shampoo bottles. The upcycling process results in uniform, high-quality components that can be used to produce fuels, solvents and lubricating oils—leveraging these and other plastics often used for packaging as an untapped resource.

The work was recently published in Nature Catalysis and specifically describes how, “enzyme-catalyzed conversions of biomacromolecules are used to affect the selective hydrogenolysis of high-density polyethylene into a narrow distribution of diesel and lubricant-range alkanes.” This is accomplished using an, “ordered, mesoporous shell/active site/core catalyst architecture that incorporates catalytic platinum sites at the base of the mesopores.” Additional details are disclosed in the article abstract.

Reportedly, this type of controlled catalysis process has never before been designed based on inorganic materials. This research will be expanded and continued under the direction of the iCOUP, led by Ames Laboratory.

Read the full study here for more information.

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